I decided against the typical liveblog fragments here. I took some time, instead, to synthesize the major events and themes of NCSM (for math supervisors) and NCTM (for math teachers) so they’ll be more useful to me later. If you’d like me to elaborate on anything I cut short, just let me know in the comments. This delay has also given me time to request supplements from presenters (slidedecks, works cited, handouts) and link them here.
- Charting a Course with Professional Learning: Coaching to Promote Mathematics Education Leaders. Nan Dempsey.
- Ignite NCSM! Ten Speakers Light up the Room with Fresh Ideas in Mathematics. Various.
- Using Video Clubs as a Vehicle to Link Instruction and Student Learning. Jim King, Nicole Bannister.
The Norms Are The Same
I’m adjusting to new naming conventions at this conference. The term “teacher” refers to (variously) a teacher supervisor, a math coach, or, more traditionally, a teacher of math students. I have found it extremely useful to simply stop caring about the difference.
We are learners and everyone in our community is a learner. We’re excited to be here learning. This is what has kept us strong.
Would you attribute that quote to a) a teacher of students, b) a teacher of teachers, or c) who cares — it’s awesome!
That was how the first speaker opened up. She then listed the three norms of her session:
Take care of yourself. Take care of each other. Share your gifts.
See earlier comment about the pointlessness of attribution.
The Norms Are Different
My favorite sessions today addressed the question: how do you talk to teachers about their teaching?
If you asked me that question before NCSM, after having blogged for four years (fairly) openly about my practice, I would have answered “you just talk about it!” This kind of well-intentioned-bull-in-a-chinashop approach was implicitly frowned upon by everybody. One of my table buddies even clucked over the discussion question, “what would you have done differently with that lesson?”
“You don’t ask teachers that question,” he said. Everyone else nodded.
I saw this again in the session on video clubs, where the norms were explicit and intense. You do not simply throw some teachers in a room and a video on the wall and tell them to talk about it.
- A university adviser helps two teachers select and crop a clip.
- Thirty teachers gather and eat food. Camaraderie is key.
- A facilitator prefaces the clip. What is the math? What might be hard about teaching it? What might be hard about learning it?
- The group watches the clip.
- The group discusses the clip.
And when you’re discussing the clip, make sure your comments are respectful of the teacher but also of the students. Do not evaluate the teacher or the lesson. Evaluate instead what the students understand. Always cite evidence from the video.
Comments of the form “I would have done [x].” are discouraged whereas comments like “I noticed [x] and I wonder if doing [y] would have resulted in [z].” are tolerated. Barely. Just watch yourself, okay?
The norms are printed and distributed to everybody. The speakers noted how uncomfortable everyone becomes whenever a newcomer joins the group and starts tromping all over this shared code. Imagine someone who doesn’t understand that the library is a place where silence is an expectation.
A large part of me wants to urge teachers to just get over all of this, to convince them this job is too difficult and too important, that we all have too much to learn to get hung up on our feelings. But check it out: the club has been running for seven years; there is little turnover; it has only grown; and its teachers are becoming huge and powerful. All of this recommends staying (at least a little) hung up on feelings.
My mind wandered, as it does twelve times a session here, to a) the internet and b) the lack of equity for teachers who can’t attend that video club and c) how (a) could render (b) totally insignificant.
You had one hundred people in the room and eighty people trying to get in. The speakers had to give up their chairs and sit on the floor.
Clearly, this is a crowd-pleaser, and something you ought to think about for your own conference. (Huge props to CMC-North, my regional math conference, for picking up the format for their next conference.) The investment is negligible and the upside is huge.
Brief recaps follow. All the talks are available (or will be soon) here.
- I went first and did a five-minute rendition of The Dan Meyer Experience, which is wearing on me. I need to learn something new here or move on. Thankfully, I have a lot of reading on my nightstand about multimedia, problem-solving, and math education
- Nora Ramirez, President of TODOS, stacked some great aphorisms side by side and filled in the mortar. Love this: “Disequilibrium is a sign of new learning.”
- Brian Lawler, Professor of Math Education at CSU San Marcos, said, “As humans we are all mathematical, so why are so few of us deemed proficient in math?” He suggested the idea of mathematics as a tool of oppression and, man, I’m tutoring a neighbor in second-year algebra lately, a class that’s farther from her aspirations to radiology than archery, and there we are, learning to add rational expressions, pushing cryptic symbols around, and it’s hard not to find Lawler’s argument compelling.
- Cathy Seeley, former President of NCTM, asked why we don’t teach teachers the same way we tell them to teach students. She asked teacher educators to walk their talk.
- Patrick Callahan, co-director of the California Math Project, brought down his fists of fury on Algebra, opening with a reference to Swift, leading into his own modest proposal: “teach more geometry; teach less algebra.” He noted that three out of four California students fail Algebra yet we’re pushing more students at a younger age into a subject that fewer teachers know how to teach. When these Ignite talks go online, do not miss Callahan’s.
- Sherry Fraser, author of the Interactive Mathematics Program, reviewed the 31-year history of IMP (a curriculum that the parents in my community ran out of town at the end of a pitchfork the year before I arrived, just by the way). She showed old video interviews of the first group and then, using LinkedIn and Facebook, updated us on their status. (They’re doing awesome, in case you missed where that was going.) Loved the bit from the kid who went on to win Best Original Screenplay at Tribeca recently: “When you’re fast, you can play any sport; when you know math, you can do anything.” Say word.
- Steve Leinwand, principal research analyst at AIR, presented “The Gospel According to Steve,” which is beyond my powers of summarization. Mostly. The five pillars of his gospel are a) dignity, b) transparency, c) collaboration, d) quality, and e) accountability. His elaboration, though, is out of my range. Check the video.
- Steve Rasmussen, co-founder Key Curriculum Press, jumped up on a table and dumped out a huge sack of change. He then jumped on another table and poured out much less change mixed in with quite a few bills. He noted that the first table was waiting for instructions while the second one had already begun counting, and tied that observation to our current model of math homework which he called “repetitive routines based on trivial operations.” He said, “Boredom is more damaging to math attainment than minor discontinuities in standards and sequence.”
- Nick Jackiw, inventor of Sketchpad, gave a talk on the history of geometry that didn’t conform to the medium or length of the Ignite format but no one seemed to mind because he’s Nick Jackiw, inventor of Sketchpad.
Gratuitous iPad Review
- The lack of wireless at both conferences is confounding.
- The Notepad app is really great. If it synced somewhere in the cloud, it’d be perfect. (Not that I have any access to the cloud right now.)
- About the same time the laptop users are scavenging for outlets, I’m at 78% battery.
- I loaded all my conference PDFs into GoodReader, which meant I could (smugly) bypass the entire conference bag experience.
- iPad Keyboard Proficiency Update: my notes are gibberish. I can fly fairly quickly on the iPad but the auto-correct function either needs more training or it’s a joke. Some of the corrections (or lack thereof) are just bizarre. (How do you not know that “teacjer” is going for “teacher?” How?!)
- Bulleted lists and HTML, more generally, are a chore on the iPad.